Friendly Witness: The Spiritual Ground of Quaker Social Action4th mo. 19, 2023 from 1pm to 6pm
Quaker Theological Discussion Group 202312th mo. 1, 2023 at 8am to 12th mo. 2, 2023 at 10am
Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I am interested in learning more about the Quietist period in Quaker history. There is not much avaliable online that I have been able to access. Pendle Hill published "A Guide to True Peace" which I understand was widely used during this Quietist period. My sense is that most view this period as a kind of embarassment. I find myself highly attracted to the little I have found. How do others feel about this dimension of Quakerism? And what resources are available for learning more about it?
My concern as a liberal Quaker about the trend towards completely silent meetings in our tradition, comes from a very practical perspective, that younger enquirers may have absolutely no grounding in Christian heritage or Quaker practice - and it is enormously hard to learn about our roots and traditions by osmosis in silence.
Let me illustrate: the majority of my younger colleagues have almost no experience of anything other than secular weddings (or tokenistic weddings, where the couple are marrying in a church because it is a pretty place), and if they have attended funerals it is more than likely these have been secular. Most have little or no understanding of the history of Christian thought, many have no experience of any form of sunday school or other religious exposure. These are men and women in their 20s and 30s, and from speaking to my younger nieces and nephews, this lack of knowledge becomes more extreme the futher down the genarations we go.
In addition, as a practical matter - most younger people have NO experience of anything other than short periods of silence.
I don't want to be in a pastoral tradition, or even have "popcorn" meetings, but I do think we need to make ourselves more accessible. I have raised on a number of occasions about reviving the tradition of more than 1 meeting for worship on First day, having our hour of silence in the morning, but having a shorter silent meeting in the afternoon or early evening followed by the chance to have discussions etc on different aspects of faith and practice.
Having time to show leadership on this concern has not been part of my journey to date, but I do wonder if there is workings going on in my life that might be leading towards this.
Barclay's Apology is the first place to go and then there are some good reading to back this up with and understand it better. Portrait in grey is another good place to go. I am not sure it is a part of RSoF history Quakers are embarrassed about as much it reflect the poor knowledge people have of their religious history and history in general. Go to lightandsilence.org.
In Peace, ASR
Your concern about knowing our own tradition is a legitimate one and I have often seen this concern posted here and at various blogs. The things is, the Quaker Meetings are more and more numerically dominated by convinced Quakers. With the percentage of birthright Quakers being very small, it is difficult to plug into the history of the tradition unless one makes a concerted effort to do so.
One of the aspects of this concern which has puzzled me is that when I have seen this concern brought up I do not at the same time see someone putting forth what a good Quaker Education would consist of. I would like to see this concern moved forward into a discussion of what are the basic works that every Quaker should have some familiarity. For example, if you were to take five Quaker books as basic and central, what would those five be?
I would select the Journal of George Fox, and other Journals from the first century, and possibly Barclay's Apology; though I'm somewhat ambivalent about the Apology as I think systematic theology is too specialized to be part of a core of works that everyone could access. One of the five would be a good Quaker History by a Quaker.
What I'm getting at is that there needs to be a core group of agreed upon works that can root the newcomer into the tradition.
One way of looking at this is how do other groups introduce the history of their practice to newcomers. I'm thinking of something like Martial Arts, or Music Groups, or other mundane groups. If you go to a Martial Arts Dojo the history is gradually passed on primarily through storytelling.
But back to the silent worship and quietism: I don't think silent meetings need necessarily interfere with rooting ourselves in the Quaker tradition. What needs to be done is some way of setting aside time for the contemplation of the Quaker heritage.
I would probably start with the testimonies, and look at how they came in to being, and how they have been expressed both historically and now in a modern context.
I think I would draw from a wide range of sources - including some work that a Friend in the UK is raising as a concern that is called "the Living Tapestry", which complements the Friends Tapestry, but uses modern media to allow people to express how they live faithful lives in the 21st centuary.
I thing I would suggest reading to extend knowledge, rather than prescribed texts. For a history I really enjoyed a "Portrait in Grey".
I will admit I struggled through the journals and through Barclay's appology, but I am trained in sciences rather than the arts, so I wonder if it is partly my natural skills set - if anyone has a digitally recorded version of any of the core journals, please can they contact me, I would be happy to pay for a copy, finding "talking books" a way of "reading" classical literature which works for me.
I also agree a silent meeting is not a complete interferance, but I do think we need to look at offering other ways of learning for those who have little grounding in a wider cultural context of Christian thought.
I've been thinking about your reply. My hope would be a greater emphasis on the Quaker heritage, its roots/origins. The Living Tapestry sounds wonderful, but that seems to me about Quakers today rather than the origins of the Quaker tradition.
My concern is that when Quakers lose their sense of having a heritage then a Quaker Meeting naturally reverts to the dominant concerns of the culture at large. The Quakers started as a counter-culture with different values from the surrounding culture and different ways of interpreting the inherited tradition of Christianity. If a sense of those roots isn't present in a conscious way then I think it is easy to lose the uniqueness of the Quaker vision.
One book that I would put in my "Top Five" would be "A Guide to True Peace". It's short, the writing is accessible, and it focuses on the Quaker tradition as a contemplative practice.
I think I didn't emphasise enough how much I would draw on historical context in my previous reply, as I too have BIG concerns about the drift from our roots.
However, I have spent enough time with my nieces and nephews to know their cry would be "but how do we practically apply it TODAY?" So the balance needs to be carefully sought.
As for the audio recordings of quaker classics, I think I am going to approach BYM about this and see what they think...it is an issue of accessibility and with things like I-pods it would be great to be able to load some quaker classics for long commutes!
I realize this discussion is now rather dated, but felt I should add some information for those of you who are interested.
I also have a great interest in the quietist period - in my view it represents the heart of Quakerism, though I don't expect most Friends to agree with that. I also think that Isaac Penington may really be the first quietist Quaker, and that the quietist 'strain' in Quakerism owes as much to him as it does to the influence of the Catholic quietists.
However, it was not until I read Patricia Ward's 'Experimental Theology in America: Madame Guyon, Fenelon, and their Readers' that I began to appreciate just how important they were to 18th century Friends. She devotes a whole chapter to the various translations and commentaries of their works by Quakers, beginning with Josiah Martin's 'An Account of Madame Guyon' in 1727. The 'Guide to True Peace' was, in fact, a relatively late addition to these works, only appearing in the first years of the 19th century.
It seems that Quakers became acquainted with the continental quietists even earlier than 1727. I have come across an account of one Benjamin Furly, an English Friend living in Amsterdam, who became a kind of 'disciple' of Antoinette Bourignon, another Friench quietist, who was living there at the beginning of the 18th century.
The history of quietism within the RSoF is a fascinating story, and I feel that most of us know all too little about it. Howard Brinton was criticised for claiming that most 18th century Friends were familiar with the writings of Guyon, Fenelon etc. In fact, it seems as if he understated his case rather than the reverse, particularly if one considers the various editions of their works 'englished' by Friends throughout the entire course of the 18th century.
Thanks for posting this information. I am not familiar with the references you mention and I look forward, in particular, to becoming acquainted with Patricia Ward's 'Experimental Theology'. That's just the kind of history I've wanted to find.
I also view Quietism as the heart and soul of the Quaker tradition and have a strong attraction to the period of Quietism. I think the attraction of Quietism for Quakers was a natural fit. The fact that Molinos, Guyon, and Fenelon were all convicted of heresy would not have been a negative for the Quakers of that time; in fact it probably would have been a plus.
I'm developing a feeling that during the 17th century there were three movements that shared certain common features. These movements were Quakers in England, Quietism in Catholic Europe, and Pietism in Lutheran Europe. All three of these movements argued for a turning inward. All three of these movements were practice oriented rather than theology oriented. All three of these movements moved in the direction of simplicity, both in terms of religious thought and in terms of their personal lives. All three of these movements were lay centered and reduced the centrality of clergy. My sense is that there was a kind of exhaustion over theology and a gradual realization that the fine tuning of theological matters did not lead to a more holy life. The bitter wars and civil unrest as a result of these religious disputes had the effect, I think, of proving to at least some that this is not where true peace could be found. The result was a turning away from externals to an inward life and practice.
My personal feeling about the RSoF is that I hope it will rediscover its quietist heritage. Right now it seems to be so engulfed by an activist mentality that it is difficult to even present the quietist view or even to find the quietist writings which were so important to Quakers of the past. One has to really do a lot of searching to uncover this material.
Thanks again for a fine post.
Thanks for your reply.
I agree with all of the points you raise, and like you I hope the RSoF will rediscover its quietist heritage. I think you are right about the predominance of an activist mentality, particularly within the liberal wing of the society (with which I am most familiar here in the UK). Sometimes, it feels almost as if you have no right to call yourself a Friend (or even attender) unless you have an involvement in some form of social concern. I think that 18th century Friends would have viewed such 'creaturely' activity with a certain amount of suspicion, as 'running ahead of the Guide', at least in some cases.....and maybe with some justification.
As you say, the fact that the Catholic quietists all got into trouble with the authorities was a definite plus for many 'non-conformist' groups. Madame Guyon has been termed 'a Quaker born out of due time', amd Rendel Harris said of her that 'no society has been so influenced by Madame Guyon as the Quakers have been'. Antoinette Bourignon was likewise widely thought to be a Quaker, though she thought otherwise (she simply viewed herself as a good Catholic despite being excommunicated) and even went to the lengths of printing a disclaimer that she was not a Quaker!
I think you should find Patricia Ward's book an good read - there's a lot in there about Pietists too. One of the things I found most interesting about it was her claim that quietism is alive and kicking, as a kind of sub-culture among younger people, in the modern US! Perhaps because it is viewed as counter-cultural and subversive of modern Western values, I don't really know - she calls it an 'underground readership'.
Another link between Pietists and Quakers is the influence of Jacob Boehme. I wonder if you have come across Howard Brinton's book (out of print) or the more recent 'Genius of the Transcendent' by Michael Birkel (a Friend) and Jeff Bach (of the pietist Church of the Brethren).
I've ordered the Patricia Ward book and look forward to reading it.
Like you I find the constant focus on activism difficult at times. I look at it this way: if I became a member of a gardening club I wouldn't expect to be regularly pushed to join in certain political causes. If I joined a music society(say a group dedicated to Handel or Mozart) I would find it out of place if its members conflated the interests of their society with certain political campaigns.
I see the RSoF has having a purpose; namely to worship God in gathered silence. Everything else, to my way of understanding, is secondary.
I work in a spiritual bookstore so I am aware that there are several small publishing houses in the U.S. that put out editions of the Quietists, particularly Guyon and Fenelon. Molinos, not so much. Recently Paulist Press, a major publisher, has put editions of Molinos and Fenelon's "Maxims of the Saints". So there does seem to be a market for these works.
What I would love to see is a Quaker Publishing company that focused on republishing some of the Quaker Quietist works from the 18th century. I'm beginning to think that they are numerous, but have been neglected by modern, activist, Quakers.
I'm at one with you on the issue of activism, and enjoyed your analogies. Of course, leadings and concerns are a deeply ingrained feature of Quakerism, and rightly remain so, but these were always traditionally understood to be the fruits of the inward life. Sometimes, they feel more like a substitute for it nowadays.... I think that is true of many religious groups though.
Concerning literature on quietist Quakers, I agree that it is very difficult to track this down, and really requires time spent among the collections found, for instance, at places like Friends House in London. There must be many similar institutions in the USA. This is a project I would like to undertake, but don't have time at present. Some of this material could probably be published, but I wonder if anyone would be willing to undertake that....
I was interested that you work in a bookstore - that might make the search easier. I have found the following books (which are mainly in print) very useful for giving me a deeper understanding of the quietist tradition in the RSoF. I am sure you are familiar with some of them, but felt it might help if I listed them anyway:
1. 'Portraiture of Quakerism' by Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson was not a Friend, but an abolitionist, who became very involved with the RSoF.
2. 'Quaker journals' by Howard Brinton.
3. 'Holiness: the soul of Quakerism' by Carole Dale Spencer. Highly recommended, and one of the best introductions to 18th century figures like Benezet and Grellet.
4. 'Quaker strongholds' and 'Light arising: thoughts on the central radiance' by Caroline Stephen, aunt of Virginia Woolf. Rufus Jones said that she had the best understanding of Quakerism of anyone he had come across.
5. All books by Michael Birkel and Lloyd Lee Wilson (I was introduced to the latter by one of the very small number of conservative Friends here in the UK).
6. 'Essays on salvation by Christ' by Job Scott. Relevant to the Gurneyite/Hicksite split. The ensuing controversy (in the form of letters) is also included. Available from Quaker Heritage Press.
All the best,